This is a scary time to be pregnant. Just two weeks ago I was feeling blissfully calm. The general consensus was that Coronavirus poses no specific risk to pregnant women, was not thought to be transmittable to unborn babies, and wasn’t as dangerous for babies and children as it was for the elderly. And while that’s still true, a fortnight ago the idea of a lockdown in Australia seemed far off and unlikely. I washed my hands diligently and laughed at the toilet paper wars.
How quickly things change. A newborn in the UK has now tested positive for Coronavirus, though it’s unclear whether the baby was infected prior to, during, or shortly after birth. And as the ABC’s resident Covid-19 expert Norman Swan notes, “we just don’t know what the effect is going to be, and it’s going to be several months before we find out”.
We can only heed the advice of medical professionals who can – at best – make an educated guess about how Coronavirus may affect our babies and our births. There’s not enough data yet. It’s too new to know the long-term effects. And with the situation changing more rapidly than a newborn’s nappy, today’s advice won’t necessarily apply tomorrow.
Suddenly, visiting the hospital for my standard prenatal appointments seems like a risk I need to weigh up. Every decision is fraught – I love exercise, and know it’s good for the baby and for me, but on my walk yesterday a man coughed as he passed me, without covering his mouth. I instantly regretted going out for some fresh air.
Some maternity wards are enforcing a ‘no visitors’ rule, while others are recommending a period of strict confinement and isolation for parents and baby at home, post-birth.
It’s not exactly the warm welcome I was planning for our Winter baby. But, like all things, there may be a silver lining.
In many cultures, the usual matrescence period involves a 40-day confinement period for mother and baby. After all, babies have low immunity at birth and mothers need time and rest to heal and recover. The confinement period allows them both to build strength and bond, safe from the outside world.
In the Western world in particular, we’re all too eager to high-five mums who ‘bounce back’, soldiering on with businesses and workouts and life as usual sometimes mere days after birth. We celebrate the ‘supermum’ answering emails from her hospital bed and coordinating campaigns while in labour. We do what we need to do, of course (especially if we have other children who need to be taken to school or appointments), but there’s no doubt that sometimes, the pressure is on to prove that we can simply get on with it. Can we? Often, yes. Should we? I’m not so sure.
When my daughter was born, we couldn’t wait to show her off. She was perfection! We made her! Come and see how clever we are! It was also Christmas time (my favourite time of year) and so naively we hosted both Christmas Eve and New Years Eve at our house, thinking it would be easier than trying to get out of the house with a newborn. Spot the first time parents. While it was a completely joyous time in many ways, a two week parade of well-meaning and very excited friends and family through our house was also overwhelming and exhausting.
They did all the right things. They brought food. They did our laundry. They held the baby while I napped and did nappy runs to the chemist and unloaded the dishwasher. They could not have been more wonderful, and I still found myself in tears at times, desperately missing my baby who was being helpfully held by someone who thought they were doing me a favour. Sometimes I snuck into my bedroom to breastfeed, only to be followed by family members to ‘keep me company’ while I grappled with nipple shields and wished I could just take my top off and stare at the wall in silence for a minute.
So this time, if confinement is the order of the day, I’ll take it as a sign. I’ll be sad, of course, not to share that magic time with the people we love most. I’ll feel guilty about our two year old, who the grandparents had been planning to spoil and indulge while she adjusted to life as a big sister. But I’ll take a safe and healthy baby over a fresh load of laundry and a lasagna any day. And maybe not ‘getting on with it’ will be as good for my soul as it is for my immunity.